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Where There is No Chinese Language Program….What can you do?

April 29, 2013

by Lelan Miller

Many school districts are either implementing or considering the implementation of Chinese immersion schools as evidenced by the number of reports of new schools and programs coming in almost weekly, if not daily. However still many more school districts do not have such programs due to many reasons: inadequate funding, lack of parent and administrator interest, or in some cases just simply the culture and outlook of a particular school district or city.

This article will address ways we can advocate for Chinese immersion schools, or at the very minimum, Chinese language classes throughout all levels of our schools.

In order to create interest in establishing any programs targeted at Chinese language learning, there needs to be a great deal of planning and involvement in creating interest in the language and culture of all Chinese-speaking countries and areas. By including all Chinese-speaking countries and areas, we create an all inclusive atmosphere of respect and learning and decrease the possibility of alienating those who feel singled out due to preference for one writing system over another or for a dialect such as Cantonese, and so forth. The newly established Chinese immersion program at Doss Elementary School of Austin, Texas has a sort of coat of arms so to speak that includes flags of Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Macao, and the PRC. It is also important to create interest in areas within the US and Canada that may have significant Chinese populations so that administrators, parents, and students do not feel compelled to see Chinese language study as a means of driving economic and cultural activity outside the US and Canada.

Igniting interest in the Chinese language and culture will require involvement of a good number of community groups, parents, businesses, and cultural organizations. Some parents volunteer with the schools to give talks and demonstrations of Chinese calligraphy, kungfu, and traditional instruments like the pipa and guzheng. Donating and giving books and materials that share information about Chinese speaking countries and their cultures to school libraries is another way of sparking interest. Some teachers become involved by learning Chinese themselves and incorporating this knowledge throughout the social studies curriculum and even after school programming. Another valuable resource is area community colleges and universities. For example, the University of Texas at San Antonio has a weeklong summer day camp just for middle school students that introduces them to the Chinese language. Middle school students in particular need more focus in our efforts to initiate interest in Chinese language programming because they are very close to choosing a foreign language path in high school.

Contact the foreign language coordinator of your local schools and express interest in Chinese language programming. Some foreign language coordinators are not willing to explore this idea due to many reasons. Reasons may include funding and student interest. However if there are a good number of students expressing interest, then there are options of “starting small” and then growing the program by offering Chinese as a club, after school class or activity, or even contacting a weekend Chinese school for assistance.

School administrators all the way from the superintendent down to the school counselors should be contacted and educated about interest in Chinese language programming. Many school counselors are in need of information regarding the value of Chinese language learning and often steer some student populations into languages that are perceived as “easy” such as American Sign Language or Spanish. The truth of the matter is there is no such thing as an easy foreign language (even ASL proves difficult to learn owing to its unique grammatical features, as many high school students have found out the hard way). Educating and informing school administrators is extremely important in paving the way to Chinese programming and ultimately immersion in our schools.

The key here is community involvement. By involving as many groups and individuals who are committed to the language and culture of Chinese speaking areas, efforts to establish Chinese language programs in the school can be successful.

Lelan Miller, 乐岚  is the founder of Mandarin Matters in Our Schools in Texas (MMOST) and master’s candidate in Chinese Language Pedagogy

One Comment leave one →
  1. Xueling permalink
    October 4, 2013 7:57 pm

    Meng Laoshi,
    Thank you so much for your article. Changing is hard, but, it is time to make the change. We need strong support from states, schools policy makers, parents, students to make it happen.

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